St. Johns County has decided to combat mental health from the onset — by starting with the district’s youth.
At a Sept. 30 press conference, Flagler Health+, in conjunction with the school district, announced the BRAVE program, which is established to encourage students toward early mental health treatment. THE PLAYERS presented a generous donation of $1 million toward supporting the initiative.
The BRAVE program will help students get in touch with their mental health earlier in life by opening the conversation about receiving help and dispelling myths. By addressing social barriers associated with receiving treatment, BRAVE hopes to provide healthcare services at the right time and right place for students silently struggling.
Flagler Health+ Care Connect will serve as the hub for student behavioral health referrals for all 39 schools in the St. Johns County School District. Services will be provided by Epic Behavioral Healthcare, Children’s Home Society and St. Augustine Youth Services. BRAVE includes care coordination and navigations services, access to virtual mental health counseling visits and a 24-hour crisis text line. Additionally, there will be on-site telehealth booths that offer access to urgent-care and mental health services.
In attendance supporting the initiative was Flagler Health+ CEO Jason Barrett, St. Johns County Public Schools Superintendent Tim Forson, St. Johns County School Board Chair Kelly Barrera, Executive Director of THE PLAYERS Jared Rice, tournament chairman Adam Campbell and First Lady of Florida, Casey DeSantis.
Additionally, Nease High School senior, Anna Hampton, spoke on behalf of students struggling with academic pressures and social expectations in an evolving world.
“I’ve witnessed firsthand the effects that students are being impacted regarding wellbeing and mental health,” Hampton said. “Although the purpose of social media is to increase communication, we see many studies that link using the application to feelings of social isolation. Teenagers who already struggle with feelings of insecurity and inadequacy are stuck scrolling through images that reinforce and worsen those feelings.”
First lady DeSantis spoke about how essential addressing mental health is for the bettering the future of the state.
“Just as we make physical health a priority, we need to start making mental health a priority,” DeSantis said. “Especially for our young students. After all, 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14. Our children getting help early on is quintessentially essential to their success in the future going forward.”
National data shows that mental illness is on the rise among the youth population. St. Johns County itself is first in overall deaths by suicide for young people, ages 18 to 24. The B.R.A.V.E initiative stands for “Be Resilient And Voice Emotions.” By helping improve access through public school systems, the program hopes to provide a hand for students and families who might not know where to look for help. According to county statistics, last year only 36% of students in St. Johns County who were identified with a mental health need followed through to access care. BRAVE’s goal for 2021 is to bring that percentage to 90%.